"Pearl Harbour seen through the eyes of an accomplished wartime nurse"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted November 22, 2023
Women's Fiction Historical
This heart-pounding, insightful tale of the bombing of Pearl Harbour and Honolulu is seen through the eyes of Lieutenant Annie Fox, recently arrived to take the post of Chief Nurse of Hickam Hospital. THE WOMAN WITH A PURPLE HEART by Diane Hanks shows how Annie gained this unlooked-for distinction. A seasoned tropical nurse, she has found the island calm and work routine, but her efforts to make friends and help locals have earned suspicion. Neither the Native Islanders nor the Japanese Americans she volunteers with trust her a great deal. She’s somewhat upset; it’s not as if the US is at war with Japan.
One morning everything changes in the blink of an eye.
The rest of the story is not for the easily stressed, as the graphic descriptions of battlefield injuries and nursing can be hard to take. More than anything else, Annie demonstrates leadership, putting her patients first, thinking ahead and flexibly, and encouraging her team of dedicated and scared nurses to give their all under bombing raids and machine gun fire. We meet some of the local residents, such as a cane field businessman, a priest, and a young mother whose husband is back in Japan. Now we see how the attack changed all their lives.
We also meet some of the determined women and men on the island, not just soldiers, but civilians too, who are doing their best to help the wounded and dying. While the reader knows Japan did not press on with a ground invasion, the islanders had to expect one and act accordingly.
At the time a Purple Heart medal was awarded for gallantry in wartime, and later it was changed to distinguish those who had been injured. Lieutenant Annie Fox was the first woman to be so honoured, and author Diane Hanks says it was hard to find out much about her life. Annie was born in Nova Scotia, with few career opportunities, and served as a frontline nurse towards the end of the Great War. She stayed in the forces and her experience and steadiness served her staff and patients well. As much as a war story, this reconstruction tells us that maturity and wide experience are vital, in a world where youth and flashiness seem to be increasingly more valued. I found this slice of women’s history fascinating, and I feel THE WOMAN WITH A PURPLE HEART should be required reading for anyone in medical work.
Based on the real life of Lieutenant Annie Fox, Chief Nurse of Hickam Hospital, The Woman with a Purple Heart is an inspiring WWII novel of heroic leadership, courage, and friendship that also exposes a shocking and shameful side of history.
Annie Fox will stop at nothing to serve her country. But what happens when her country fails her?
In November 1941, Annie Fox, an Army nurse, is transferred to Hickam Field, an air force base in Honolulu. The others on her transport plane are thrilled to work in paradise, but Annie sees her new duty station as the Army's way of holding the door open to her retirement. But serving her country is her calling and she will go wherever she is told.
On December 7, Annie's on her way to work when the first Japanese Zero fighter plane flies low over Hickam's Parade Ground. The death and destruction that follow leave her no time to process what's happening. She rallies her nurses, and they work to save as many lives as they can. But soon their small hospital is overwhelmed. Annie drives into Honolulu to gather supplies, nurses, and several women who will donate blood. However, the nurses are Japanese Americans, and the blood donors are prostitutes.
Under Annie's leadership and working together in unexpected ways, they make it through that horrific day, when one of the Japanese American nurses and Annie's friend, Kay, is arrested as a suspected subversive. As Hickam tries to recover, Annie works to find her friend and return Kay to her family. But Annie's love for her country is put to the test. How can she reconcile the American bravery and resilience she saw on December 7 with the prejudice and injustice she witnesses just a few months later?
Please be advised:
This story contains war-related themes, including violence and trauma, as well as racism and racial slurs that could trigger certain audiences.
Copyright © 2023 by Diane Hanks
Cover and internal design © 2023 by Sourcebooks
Cover design by Faceout Studio, Jeff Miller
Cover images © Stephen Mulcahey/Arcangel, Diane Labombarbe/Getty Images, Kwangmoozaa/Shutterstock, Ensuper/Shutterstock
Internal design by Tara Jaggers/Sourcebooks
Sourcebooks and the colophon are registered trademarks of Sourcebooks.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems—except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews—without permission in writing from its publisher, Sourcebooks.
The characters and events portrayed in this book are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Apart from well-known historical figures, any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.
Published by Sourcebooks Landmark, an imprint of Sourcebooks
P.O. Box 4410, Naperville, Illinois 60567-4410
Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file with the Library of Congress.
Printed and bound in the United States of America.
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For the nurses.
And the men and women who served at
Hickam Field on December 7, 1941.
As a member of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association, I am often asked what ship I was on. When I reply that I wasn’t on a ship but was stationed at Hickam Field, I am usually asked, “Where is Hickam Field?”… The Japanese certainly knew!
Former Master Sergeant Thomas J. Pillion
400th Signal Company, Hickam Field
November 3, 1941
After more than a year, First Lieutenant Annie Fox had grown used to the relatively high altitude at the John Hay Air Station in the Philippines. The mosquitos had also acclimated to the altitude, and she swatted several away as she strode past the U.S. Army Hospital and quickened her pace toward Lieutenant Colonel Horan’s office, assuming he wanted to discuss the latest outbreak of malaria. A week ago, every hospital bed was occupied with a soldier stricken by the disease. Before the outbreak, Annie and the other nurses had done what they could; they’d handed out antimalarial pills and had given talks about how important it was to stick to the regimen they laid out. But telling healthy young men that a mosquito bite might cause more harm than an enemy combatant was something they’d shrugged off as well-meaning but useless advice. One young soldier had even compared Annie to his overprotective mother. Granted, at forty-eight, she was old enough to be his mother, but she still outranked him.
At the thought of that encounter, her adrenaline spiked. Just as well given that Annie was about to meet with the commander, whose disregard for her input on anything but how to rid himself of hemorrhoids was beyond irritating.
When she entered his office, he was sitting behind his polished desk. She’d told him he should try to stand as much as possible, but he’d ignored her advice in favor of sitting on a large pillow his wife had sewn for him. She’d even embroidered an eagle on the pillow with an oak leaf to signify his rank. Not that anyone could see the eagle or the leaf.
Annie saluted the commander and his pillow and stood before his desk, where he made her wait while he signed a few documents before saying, “At ease, Lieutenant.”
“Thank you, sir. If you’d like me to report on the number of men still occupying beds, I’m afraid it’s about the same. The course of malaria can be long.”
“That’s not why you’re here.”
“Nevertheless, it’s something we should discuss. If Japan continues to expand into Indonesia, many of our troops won’t be combat ready.”
“My troops aren’t your concern anymore. You’re being transferred to Hickam Field.”
Annie was stunned. “I didn’t request a transfer.” In fact, she’d never even mentioned a transfer. Nor had she ever complained, and as far as she knew, no one had complained about her. Not in twenty-three years of service.
“Sorry you weren’t consulted,” said Horan sarcastically, holding out the document he’d signed.
Annie didn’t reach for it. “With all due respect, I didn’t ask—”
“Would you prefer to finish your career at Walter Reed?”
“Finish my career?”
“Neither of us is getting any younger. Dismissed, Lieutenant.”
He wasn’t just dismissing her from his office. He was dismissing her entire adult life, which she’d dedicated to the U.S. Army.
Suddenly feeling as worn down as an old boot, Annie took her transfer papers, saluted, and left his office like a good soldier. It was all she knew how to be.
Boarding the Lockheed 12 Electra Junior—a six-passenger transport plane that would take Annie to her new duty station—she wondered if being a good soldier for the past few decades had earned her much more than a steady paycheck. Of course, that was one of the reasons she’d left Pubnico, Nova Scotia, to join the U.S. Army.
Having an abundance of natural beauty, Pubnico was unfortunately bereft of opportunities for young women outside marriage. Several young men had asked Annie’s father for her hand—not because they were in love with her, but because there were so few women from whom to choose. And Annie was considered a good catch not only because she was pretty but because she was athletic and daring. She’d never turned down a challenge and could outrun and outswim any other girl in the province. She would have made an ideal farmer or fisherman’s wife. But Annie wanted to be a doctor, like her father. Until World War I broke out.
Canada was part of the British Empire, so when Great Britain declared war on Germany in the summer of 1914, Canada was also officially at war. Annie had wanted to serve, but her father asked her to stay back. In return, he’d offered to have her accompany him on house calls. But she’d been doing that for years and wasn’t tempted to stay, so he’d sweetened the pot by allowing her to perform some of the simpler procedures. Thus, Annie had agreed to give some of the young men in Pubnico an opportunity to impress.
By 1918, Annie had not found a man who impressed her enough to give up her freedom, and her father reluctantly let her go, resigned to the fact that his twenty-five-year-old daughter was an old maid. His only consolation had been knowing she had sufficient medical knowledge to make a difference. “You’ll make a damn fine field nurse,” he’d told her, thinking Annie would represent Canada well. She hadn’t told him she wanted a bigger life, nor had she told him the confidence he’d instilled in her over her four-year apprenticeship had given her the courage she’d needed to make the bold move of joining the U.S. Army, after which she was transferred to the frontlines of the Great War. Annie hadn’t wanted her father to blame himself if the worst happened.
Three days after she’d left the Philippines, Annie glanced around the transport plane that would take her from San Francisco, where she’d stopped at the Presidio Army Base to visit a few friends, to Hickam Field, which was on the island of Oahu, adjacent to Pearl Harbor. Annie gazed out the window and could just make out the island. It looked like an emerald on a sea of shimmering blue and nearly took her breath away.
“It’s beautiful,” she said.
“Say again, ma’am?”
She turned to the young man in the seat beside her. “I said, the island is beautiful.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he said, glancing at a young nurse sitting across the aisle. “We sure did get lucky.”
Wishing she felt lucky, Annie gazed out the window at the sapphire waves, watching them change to turquoise before rushing over pristine pale-pink sand. The beaches stretched for miles, all the way to the immovable gray of battleships and destroyers that slumbered in Pearl Harbor. Practically next door was Hickam Field, where she could see the gray runways of the biggest Army airfield in the Hawaiian Islands—home to more than two hundred heavy bombers, mostly the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. Hickam was also home to nearly seven thousand enlisted men and almost eight hundred officers, all potential patients. And behind the flight line for the B-17s, she finally saw the red cross on the roof of her new duty station—Hickam Hospital.
November 5, 1941
The wood inside the women’s barracks, located behind Hickam Hospital, was so new it still smelled freshly cut. Set in neat double rows were utilitarian bureaus, lockers, and half a dozen twin beds. However, only five women, all in their early twenties, sat on their respective beds, gossiping like girls at summer camp rather than Army nurses at a new duty station.
“I was so glad they transferred me to Hickam,” said Sara Entrikin, strategically placing another bobby pin to hold a twist of dark hair near her temple.
“No kidding. Do you know the ratio of men to women is twenty to one?” asked Monica Conter in a subtle Southern drawl as she applied pale-pink polish to neatly trimmed fingernails.
“I wasn’t referring to men,” said Sara. “My twin sister, Helen, is a nurse at Pearl Harbor, so we’re right next door to each other.”
“You’ll have to compare notes and see if the best-looking men are Navy or Army,” Winnie Mallett added as she scanned articles listed on the cover of the November 1941 issue of Woman magazine: “Women Talk Too Much,” “Diamonds on a Budget,” and “The Sergeant’s Wife Speaks Up.” The others shouted “Army!” with enthusiastic loyalty.
“What difference does it really make when we’re not allowed to marry?” asked Kathy Coberly, who was busy painting her toes. She’d searched for weeks before her transfer to Hickam to find the same crimson polish Rita Hayworth had worn in Blood and Sand.
“Well, we’re allowed to have fun,” said Monica. “When I got my transfer notice, my supervisor told me to pack three things—my uniform, a swimsuit, and my evening clothes.”
“Waikiki is the best beach if you’re looking for men. But if you want waves, Waimea Bay is the best spot.” Irene Boyd had been on base the longest—two weeks—and had spent her time off scouting for places to surf.
“How long have you been surfing?” asked Sara.
“Since I was a kid,” said Irene. “I’ll teach you. If you’re not going to have sex, you’ll need something to do when you’re off duty.”
“Who said I’m not going to have sex?” asked Sara.
They all giggled until Kathy whispered, “Ten-hut!”
Annie entered, wearing her robe, as she’d just come from the shower. Grabbing a novel from her bureau, she laid it on her bed while she fluffed her pillows. The cover of This Above All depicted an air and sea battle set during the Battle of Dunkirk, and she was confident that the novel would help compensate for the island paradise. Not that there was anything wrong with paradise. She just wanted something to make her feel more…alive.
She got into bed and leaned back against her pillows. “I wouldn’t mind learning to surf,” she said from behind the book. A half smile on her lips, she waited for an invitation, but her nurses remained silent. Not a surprise. After all, she was their superior and twice their age. She could be their mentor, teacher, and mother but never their friend.
Wondering if she was the oldest woman on base, Annie wanted to pull the blanket up over her face. Instead, she focused on the opening chapter and tried to ignore the girl talk.
The next morning, Annie left the women’s barracks, one of several that surrounded the large, grassy parade ground. Wearing her uniform—jacket, skirt, white shirt, black tie, and service cap—she walked down “Main Street,” passing the post exchange, where she could buy anything from soda pop to soap powder, and the theatre, where a sign read “Coming Soon—How Green Was My Valley.” A golden cross on the steeple of the chapel shimmered in the morning sun, and Annie crossed herself as she passed before pausing to watch children line up near the front door of the schoolhouse, where several military wives stood nearby waving goodbye. Feeling a twinge of regret over not having her own children, Annie purposefully strode toward her new hospital.
Hickam’s hospital had just opened and was set next to headquarters and only three blocks from the flight line, where the bombers and other aircraft were parked and serviced. Built of reinforced concrete, the hospital was three stories high with wide screened porches on three sides. Being a small hospital, it only had forty beds. Seriously ill patients were often sent to the U.S. Army’s Tripler General Hospital, which was nearly ten miles away but much larger.
On Hickam Hospital’s porch, Annie stood and gazed toward Pearl Harbor, where U.S. Navy planes were practicing maneuvers over the Pacific. She thought being this close to the ocean might remind her of home, but the Atlantic was so different and always changing—from blue to gray, calm to stormy. In contrast, the Pacific appeared serene, as if it never lost its temper.
The first floor of the hospital was home to the administrative offices, while the second floor housed the operating theatre and clinic, with the patient ward on the third floor. The hospital also had an elevator for transporting patients, which Annie appreciated as she got off it to inspect the patient ward.
The hospital’s iron-framed beds nearly shone against the white walls. Only two of the beds were occupied by young men who were stable and appeared to be asleep. Quietly checking the beds with mattresses to make sure the sheet corners were tight, she noted that fifteen beds were without mattresses, which would need to be rectified.
No doubt, Lieutenant Colonel Horan transferred her to Hickam Field because he’d considered her too old to handle a larger patient ward. Since he’d informed her of the transfer, she’d felt trapped between insult and self-doubt; seeing the small ward did nothing to help.
Moving on to the operating theatre on the second floor, Annie inspected the equipment. She checked for dust on the large lights suspended over the operating table, then ran a finger around the steel washbasin on a table that would hold surgical instruments. Putting an empty glass IV holder up to the light, she saw that it was crystal clear. On her way out, she examined the oxygen tanks standing at attention against the wall and smiled her approval.
After informing him about the missing mattresses, Annie stood at ease before her new superior, Major David Lance, who had been blessed with good looks. Over her lifetime, she’d known several men who’d let a handsome face take them as far as it could, whether it be to a wife with a sizable fortune or an embassy post that required more charm than political expertise. In most instances, there was little behind the face but greed and ambition. She didn’t think that would be the case with Major Lance, who seemed to have an intensity of purpose in his eyes as he folded his hands over the list of items she felt they needed.
“I’m aware that we don’t have enough mattresses, Lieutenant Fox,” he said.
“Not by nearly half, Major.”
“We only have two patients.”
“For now,” she said, crossing her arms. “But what if we—”
“Get an outbreak of sunburn?”
Annie raised a brow. Maybe he was just another handsome face.
“I don’t mean to be flippant,” he said with an apology in his tone. “It’s just that most of our men are young and healthy.”
“I’d still like to request that my ward…our ward…”
“It’s all right. You are chief nurse.”
She returned his smile. “Your chief nurse respectfully requests fifteen new mattresses.”
“Duly noted,” he said. “Anything else?”
“New hospital. Healthy soldiers. Blue skies. Can’t complain.” Yet given the chance, she’d argue for a new posting.
“Paradise can take some getting used to. Take the afternoon off and try.”
Annie nodded, seeing an understanding in his eyes that she could get lost in. “Thank you, sir.” She saluted, more to remind herself of the chain of command, and left his office. Besides, she was too old to have a crush.
Annie stopped outside the nurses’ quarters to take off her cap and unbutton her jacket when she heard voices from the main room.
“Who’s coming?” asked Irene.
“I don’t have a surfboard,” moaned Winnie.
“You can rent one,” said Irene.
“Then I’m in,” said Winnie in a much cheerier tone.
“Me too,” said Monica.
“Okay, grab your swimsuits,” said Irene.
Annie nearly entered the room, ready to join them, when—
“What about the chief?” asked Monica.
Annie stood frozen.
“She did say she wanted to learn,” said Irene.
“She’s old enough to be my mother,” said Winnie. “I’d never let her near a board. She’d…break something.”
“I’ll take responsibility for her,” offered Monica.
“Then I can blame you for making me spend my day off with our boss,” said Winnie.
“She probably has other things she’d rather do,” said Irene. “My mother loves her knitting circle and bridge club.”
“It’s settled then,” said Winnie. “We’ll leave the chief to things that older women like to do.”
Annie felt both anger and self-pity—two emotions she had little tolerance for in anyone, especially herself. She remained hidden until they left.
Strolling down a street in Honolulu, Annie wore a civilian dress that made her look as soft as the hair that brushed her shoulders. She could pass for a housewife out window-shopping, which was what she was trying to do. Nearly every woman she’d ever known liked to window-shop.
Walking past several shops, her eyes settled on three cocktail dresses in a store window. The red dress had too many sequins and the blue one too much lace. But the black one had just the right mix of modesty and sexiness. She tried to imagine herself wearing the black dress and dancing with Major Lance at the officer’s club but couldn’t quite get there.
Feeling as if she lacked some essential feminine attribute necessary for romantic daydreams, she was walking away from the store with the perfect black dress when another sign caught her eye: Nurses Wanted.
Entering the Japanese American Community Center, Annie saw that a meeting was taking place. She quickly made her way to the back of the room, sitting in a chair at one of the only empty tables. Most tables were filled with Japanese American women between the ages of twenty and seventy. In doing her homework before coming to the island, Annie had learned that more than one-third of the population of Oahu was Japanese.
Annie turned her attention to the woman who stood on a small stage that was unadorned except for an American flag. Introducing herself as Kay Kimura—the nurse who ran the center—she appeared to be in her midthirties and was very poised. Like she was used to speaking in front of a crowd or was simply comfortable in this particular setting.
“I realize there’s growing fear in our community,” said Kay. “But there’s growing fear everywhere as Germany and Japan become more aggressive.”
“Japan is not the same as Germany!” said an older Japanese gentleman whose wife pulled him back into his chair.
Ignoring the outburst, Kay continued calmly. “Because our country may go to war with Japan, some people will see us as—”
“Aliens! That’s what they call us. That and worse!” The older man remained seated, looking at his wife as if daring her to disagree. She did not.
A tall Hawaiian man in his late thirties stood and faced the audience. “My name is Makani Hale. Many of you call me Mak and know I’m a nurse and a liaison between your people and mine, so this might not be the first time you’ve heard me say that everyone on this island who isn’t a descendant of Wākea, our Sky Father, or Papahānaumoku, our Earth Mother, is an alien. Including the Chinese, Filipinos, and the American military.”
The room seemed to grumble at the mention of the American military, and Annie straightened like she’d put her uniform back on.
“Oahu is a U.S. territory,” said Kay. “They have the right to—”
The older Japanese man stood. “Turn the island into a military base?!”
“I understand your frustration, Mr. Taketa,” said Kay, “but the military is here to stay, so we must learn to live together.”
Mr. Taketa remained standing.
Looking past his frown, Kay said, “I think we would all feel better if we just accept—”
“American rules and regulations?” asked Mak.
Annie could no longer stay silent and stood. “They are in place for a reason.”
Everyone turned to her, most appearing surprised at her presence if not dismayed.
“Have you ever considered the fact that having such a large military presence here keeps everyone safe?” said Annie.
“From everyone but them,” said Mak.
Annie looked around the room and saw nearly everyone nodding in agreement. But not Kay, who appeared conflicted and concerned.
Nearly two hours later, as Annie helped gather paper cups from the tables, she saw Kay say goodbye to Mr. Taketa, who took a small white envelope from his jacket pocket and gave it to her. She kissed him on the cheek and slipped the envelope into the pocket of her dress as she closed the door behind the older couple.
Annie placed the paper cups in the trash and approached Kay. “Mrs. Kimura…”
Startled, Kay turned to her. “Thank you for helping, Mrs.…?”
“Miss Fox,” said Annie. “And you don’t need to thank me. I stayed because I’d like to talk to you about volunteering.” She pointed to the Nurses Wanted sign in the window.
Annie stood at relaxed attention while Major Lance studied her from the chair behind his desk as if she were an interesting specimen under a microscope. “Why do you want a second job? And why did you tell her you worked at the civilian hospital?” He gestured to the chair next to her like he was sure it would take a while to explain.
Sitting, Annie wondered if she should be truthful. She had never lied to a superior, but telling him she was already bored with his small hospital might not be wise. “I want to help at the center because I think we should try to improve our relations with the community. During their meeting, it became very clear that they resent our presence on the island. Not just the Japanese but the native islanders as well.”
“So we’re the enemy,” he said. “That’s why you told them you work at Queen’s Hospital?”
“Yes, sir.” Queen’s Hospital was the largest civilian hospital on the island.
“Okay,” he said after a moment. “You can try working at the community center on a trial basis, for the sake of building better relations with the civilian population. But if it interferes with your duties here, it ends.”
“Understood, sir. One more thing?”
He nodded permission.
“I was invited to a tea ceremony on Tuesday. I shouldn’t be gone long, and I’ll meet more people than I would during several house calls.”
“Fine,” said Major Lance. “But keep me informed, and I’m not just talking about an outbreak of measles.”
Annie knew, as everyone did, that the relationship between the United States and Japan was on shaky ground. If things fell apart, many wondered which country the Japanese American community would support. “Is insurrection an actual concern?”
“We can’t rule it out,” he said. “But if you’re not comfortable with…”
She could see he was having trouble finding the right words. “Spying on my patients?”
“You are an Army nurse, Lieutenant. However, if you’re not up for it, I’ll understand.”
Annie had been through a world war and knew intelligence could make the difference between winning and losing. She’d just never envied those who’d had to do it; there was too much deceit involved. “I’ll report anything of importance.” Standing, she saluted, certain that helping the people she’d met at the center would lead to nothing she’d need to share.
November 12, 1941
At the tea ceremony, back in civilian clothes, Annie kept her ears open to the gossip, at least what was in English, as she made her way to the kitchen where Kay, wearing a kimono, was arranging sweet buns and dumplings on silver trays.
“Sweets before tea?” asked Annie.
“It’s tradition,” said Kay.
“I take it having someone like me as a guest isn’t traditional?” She glanced into the main room where women at several nearby tables eyed her with a mix of suspicion and curiosity.
“Not yet.” Kay took one of the trays, Annie following with extra napkins, and set it down at the table where Mrs. Taketa sat. “How is Mr. Taketa?”
“Opinionated and stubborn,” said Mrs. Taketa.
“Then nothing out of the ordinary.” Kay bent down to give her a hug, slipping a small envelope into the older woman’s open purse. Mrs. Taketa had been ready.
Pulling her eyes away from the transaction, Annie went back to the kitchen to answer the phone. “Community Center. May I help you?” She listened as Kay returned and then held the receiver out to her. “For you.”
Kay took the phone. “Nurse Kimura speaking. How may I—” As she listened, her eyes went to her medical bag, sitting on a nearby shelf. “I’ll leave right away, Chie.” She hung up the phone and turned to Annie. “Can you start a little sooner than we’d planned?”
“Good. I’ll go to the ladies’ room and change, and we’ll be on our way. While I do that, could you ask Amai to take over the tea ceremony?” She pointed to a young nurse who’d just sat at the table with Mrs. Taketa.
“Will do,” said Annie, catching her military-speak. “I’m happy to ask. It’ll give me a chance to introduce myself.”
Smile in place, Annie walked toward Amai, who looked at her like Mak did—with eyes full of wariness. “Amai?” said Annie, holding out her hand. “My name is Annie Fox.”
“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Fox,” said Amai.
“Miss Fox,” said Annie, who was used to people assuming she was married at her age. “Kay asked me to let you know that she has to make an urgent house call, and she’d like you to take over hosting the tea ceremony. I’d help, but she asked me to go with her.” Annie thought she noted some relief cross over Amai’s face.
“Thank you for letting me know, Miss Fox.”
“Please, call me Annie.”
“I should get back to our guests,” said Amai, with a barely there smile.
Annie was sure that she would need to win over both Mak and Amai, if that was possible. However, gaining Kay’s trust would go a long way with them.
Kay led Annie into her first-floor apartment, leaving her shoes next to a few pairs already neatly lined against the wall. As she watched Annie do the same, Kay thought about the fact that she’d never had a white person in her home before. It hadn’t been intentional; she’d just never had the opportunity, which was just as well, at least while her husband had been living there. She’d come to learn that he believed other races were inferior and could imagine his expression if he were watching Annie enter his domain.
Pushing her husband out of her thoughts, Kay saw Annie glance at the small Buddhist altar on the wooden table. She assumed there weren’t many white people with an understanding of the Buddha’s teachings, but Annie’s expression reflected more curiosity than judgment before her attention turned to the pregnant woman on Kay’s couch, her hands running soothing circles over her belly.
“I’m sorry, Kay,” said the young woman, pointing to another room. “My water broke in the bathroom. I was going to clean it up but—” A pain-filled moan escaped.
Kay took her hand. “Squeeze. I won’t break.” As the woman squeezed, Kay made introductions. “Chie, this is Nurse Annie Fox. She’s helping out at the community center. Annie, Chie Ikeda is one of my neighbors. She watches my children after school on the days I’m going to be late. Don’t know what I’d do without her.”
“Rely on your mother?” Chie said, looking at Kay with exaggerated horror.
Normally, Kay would have laughed, because her mother was never her first choice as babysitter. Not because she wasn’t more than capable of taking care of her grandchildren; there was no one Kay trusted more. The only reason Kay didn’t like leaving her mother with the children was because of her penchant for snooping. Her mother believed it made no difference that her daughter was a grown woman with children of her own; she still had every right to know everything that was going on in Kay’s life, just as she did when Kay was a child. If that meant searching through drawers and reading Kay’s mail, then so be it. This was the main reason Kay had never kept a diary when she was a girl. Even if locked, her mother would’ve found a way in. And now Kay had even more secrets to hide.
“Happy to meet you, Mrs. Ikeda,” said Annie.
Chie smiled but kept her eyes on Kay. “Do you think the baby’s turned?”
“Only one way to find out, but I need to wash before I examine you.” Kay waited until the contraction passed, watching for Chie to relax. Every woman was different. Some would moan with every contraction, starting off low, coming to a crescendo, and fading to a whisper in relief as it passed. But with some, it was all about the breath. She watched Chie’s chest rise with a deep breath and then hold as she waited for the contraction to pass. She would need to remind her patient to breathe on the way to the hospital. “We’ll be right back, Chie. In the meantime, try to relax with a few deep, slow breaths.”
In the bathroom, Kay washed her hands while Annie took a towel from the rack and placed it over a small pool of amniotic fluid on the floor.
“You’re a midwife too?” asked Annie.
Kay thought she heard a little envy in Annie’s voice, which was normal. Most nurses who weren’t also midwives thought delivering babies was the best thing about being a nurse. And Kay could say that nothing compared to handing a mother her healthy newborn. There was also nothing that compared to telling a mother her child was stillborn or would die soon because of a tragic birth defect. Having to tell Chie such a thing was unthinkable. “I examined Chie two days ago, and the baby hadn’t turned. If that’s still the case, I’ll need to take her to the hospital. She and her husband can’t afford an ambulance.”
“Is there anything I can do?”
Kay hesitated. If her mother ever learned that a woman Kay barely knew had watched over her grandchildren, she would never speak to Kay again. But if Chie had a difficult time, Kay could be at the hospital for hours, giving her mother plenty of time to find what Kay should have destroyed by now. “My kids will be home from school soon. How do you feel about babysitting?”
“Whenever my father had to take a patient to the hospital, I’d care for the children in the household if there was no one else,” Annie replied. “Between that and babysitting my younger siblings, I’ve had plenty of experience. I’m fine with staying until your husband gets home.”
“My husband is away,” said Kay, relieved to hear Chie moan with another contraction so she didn’t need to say more.
Having cleaned up the amniotic fluid and deposited the towel in the hamper, Annie turned to see a boy and a girl, young enough to fit side by side in the bathroom doorway.
“Who are you?” asked the boy, who was nearly as tall as his sister but looked younger.
“That’s rude, Tommy,” said the girl.
“In your brother’s defense, I am a stranger standing in your bathroom. Let’s fix that.” Smiling, Annie extended her hand to Tommy. “My name is Annie Fox.”
“Fox like the animal?” Hesitating, Tommy shook her hand.
“Yes, like the animal.”
“Where’s Mrs. Ikeda?” asked the girl, taking her brother’s other hand like she was ready to run should Annie’s answer give her cause for concern.
“Her baby was coming feetfirst, so your mom gave her a ride to the hospital so they can help turn the baby around before she delivers.” She could tell Kay’s daughter appreciated the details of Chie’s condition. “I was with your mom, so she asked me to stay with you until she gets back.”
“When will she be home?” asked the girl.
“It might take a few hours if she stays until Mrs. Ikeda gives birth. But she didn’t say whether she planned to stay for sure.”
Tommy turned to his sister. “You need to clean my back before Mom gets home.”
Sighing, the girl extended her hand to Annie. “I’m Beth. I’m nine. Tommy has something on his back that we need to get off. Can you help us?”
Annie took Beth’s hand. “Pleased to meet you, Beth. And it’s good to know you’re old enough to assist me while I take care of whatever’s on your brother’s back.”
A few minutes later, Tommy placed the Captain America comic book he held on top of the hamper with care and stood with his back to Annie, who sat on the edge of the tub.
“Are you sure this will work?” asked Beth, handing her a bottle of baby oil.
“I think so.” Annie took the bottle. “Do you have cotton balls?”
Beth stood on tiptoes to reach back into the medicine cabinet. Taking down a glass jar of cotton balls, she took out a few and brought them to Annie.
“Thank you, Beth. You’re a big help.”
“She is not,” said Tommy. “This was her fault in the first place.”
“He’s only six,” said Beth. “He doesn’t know anything.”
“I do too!”
“Tell me what happened, Tommy,” suggested Annie as she began to gently rub his back with baby oil.
“They took Beth’s jump rope. The one Dad made. It has special red, white, and blue handles. Like Captain America’s shield.” Tommy pointed to the cover of his comic book. “That’s why Bobby took it.”
“Bobby Larkin took it for his sister,” interjected Beth. “She wanted to trade paper dolls for my jump rope, but I said no.”
“I would’ve said no too. Never liked dolls as much as jump rope.” Annie threw the used cotton ball into a nearby trash basket and soaked a new one with baby oil.
“When Bobby took the jump rope, Beth cried,” said Tommy.
“Maybe a little. But I didn’t ask you to fight him.”
“Same thing,” he said.
Beth rolled her eyes but didn’t disagree.
“Bobby’s friends held me down, and he drew something on my back, and they all laughed. But Beth won’t tell me what it is.”
“Because it’s just a big blob. You squirmed and foiled their plan.” Beth looked plaintively at Annie.
“Your sister’s right, Tommy,” said Annie, realizing Beth was struggling to keep the hurt inside so her brother wouldn’t see it. “You foiled their plan. Just like Captain America does with the bad guys.” She saw Tommy grin and went back to work, tenderly wiping away the word JAP until it resembled nothing but a faded bruise.
It was late by the time Annie returned to the women’s barracks, and the first thing she did, as always, was check on her nurses. All slept under a sheet and a sheen of sweat, except for one whose cover was pulled all the way up. Knowing what she’d find, Annie lifted one foot and kicked what should have been Winnie Mallett’s behind. Instead, a pillow fell off the other side of the bed.
Annie parked herself on the back stoop of the barracks, where she would have come in if she were Winnie. Yawning, she checked her watch and tried to remember the last time she’d pulled such a stunt. Fort Mason in San Francisco? No. It had been when she was stationed at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio. She’s still been in her twenties. It seemed like yesterday and a million years ago at the same time. She was trying to remember the name of the young man who’d kept her out past curfew when she heard the click of heels.
Peering into the darkness, Annie saw a frozen shadow about a yard away. “Come forward, Mallett.”
Winnie stepped out of the darkness and into the dim light over the back door. She smoothed her hair and stood up straight. “I was just—”
“Whatever you’re about to say, the truth will be easier for both of us.”
Winnie took a deep breath. “I was with a man.”
“Army or Navy?”
“Army pilot. B-17 Flying Fortress,” Winnie responded with pride.
“Good for you,” said Annie without sarcasm. “Just make sure Flyboy’s worth what you’ll lose if you have to marry him. Speaking of which, please tell me he used a condom.”
A blush spread across Winnie’s cheeks as she took herself out of the glaring light and sat on the stoop near Annie. “I’m not sure. It was all kind of…fast.”
“Doesn’t sound worth the risk.”
Winnie appeared unsure as to whether she should argue the point.
“If you stay out with Flyboy after curfew again, you’ll be on bedpan duty for a month.”
“And let me know when you get your period.”
Opening the door to go inside, Annie glanced back at the anxiety in Winnie’s face with empathy. Like every woman on a military base where there were twenty men for every one woman, Winnie would have to learn to take care of herself when it came to the opposite sex.
The exam room was pristine but also spare. Annie thought clutter led to distraction from patient care, which she wouldn’t allow. Therefore, exam rooms contained only what was essential: one cabinet for supplies, one stool, one chair, and one exam table.
Corporal Jeremy Tig, who’d been next to Annie on the transport plane to Oahu, sat on the exam table as she studied a large bruise. The contusion spread from his back to his left side like a flower blooming just under his skin.
“How did you get this, Corporal?”
“Whatever you tell me is confidential, just as it would be if you were speaking to a doctor. Unless you got this during a bank robbery, in which case I’d have to report you.”
“No, ma’am. I didn’t rob a bank.” Jeremy managed a crooked smile.
“Then how did it happen? I need to know if it was a fist or a blunt instrument.”
“Me and my friends were in a bar, and we got into a disagreement with some Japs.”
“Rephrase, Corporal,” said Annie sharply.
“We got into a fight.”
“Fist or blunt instrument?” she asked again.
“It was a hand that felt like a blunt instrument.” He held his hand out straight, awkwardly mimicking a sideways motion. “Couldn’t hardly breathe after that, which didn’t exactly make for a fair fight. They have some sneaky moves.”
“I suppose your opponent would have called it clever rather than underhanded. No pun intended, Corporal.”
“He wasn’t clever enough to avoid my right hook. Got a couple in before he pulled that goddamn magic trick. Pardon my language, ma’am.”
“Until you figure out the magic in the trick, I suggest you stay away from that particular bar,” she said, gently probing the skin surrounding the bruise to check for swelling.
A knock and Kathy entered. “Major Lance would like to see you, Chief. Stat.”
Annie took an elastic bandage out of a drawer. “Please finish checking for any swelling before you wrap him up, Nurse Coberly.” She handed the bandage to Kathy and turned to Jeremy. “Keep yourself safe, Corporal. Your body needs time to heal.”
“Yes, ma’am,” said Jeremy, his attention focused solely on the young nurse.
Annie had always appreciated the fact that both of the surgeons sitting across from Dr. Lance—Captains Carl Metcalfe and Dennis Doyle—exuded self-confidence and a certain detachment. Dr. Doyle, the younger of the two, also had a healthy dose of cocky, but Annie had never seen him make a bad decision regarding a patient because of it. On the other hand, Dr. Metcalfe tended to play it too safe. Once he made a cut, he was myopic about his surgical mission. Last week, Annie had assisted him during an appendectomy. The patient was a fifty-year-old plane mechanic and otherwise healthy. Once Dr. Metcalfe removed the appendix, Annie had spotted a growth the size of a grape in the patient’s small intestine. She’d pointed it out and assumed he would excise it or at least take a biopsy. He’d done neither. And now the mechanic was waiting to heal only to be cut open again to find out if he had cancer. Waiting had been to no one’s benefit except Dr. Metcalfe’s, because the major had more experience with abdominal surgery and would perform the excision. If the patient died, it would be listed under his mortality count. Annie assumed this was why she’d been summoned but didn’t know why Dr. Doyle was there.
Closing the door behind her, she saw that both captains appeared unpleasantly surprised by her presence. The major noticed it too. “I said senior staff would be read in,” he said, moving a chair from the opposite wall closer to his desk, where he motioned Annie to sit.
Ignoring her, Dr. Doyle addressed only the men. “Opinions are split, as far as I can tell.”
“I agree,” said Dr. Metcalfe. “One day, I hear rumors about Japan attacking the Panama Canal, and the next day, it’s Singapore. I’m not sure we can take any of it too seriously.”
“What I take seriously is the fact that our diplomatic relationship with Japan isn’t getting any better,” said Major Lance.
“You think they’ll attack?” asked Annie.
“I think the alert level might be raised. Sooner rather than later.”
“So we should prepare for an attack?” she asked calmly.
“Don’t worry, Annie,” said Dr. Doyle, his voice dripping with condescension. “There’s no country on earth that would dare attack our Pacific Fleet, including Japan.”
Dr. Metcalfe spoke up with serious self-importance. “I played golf with General Short yesterday, and his main concern is sabotage from the Japanese who already live on the island.”
“Sabotage?” said Annie.
“There’s no need to speculate until we receive further information. I just want you to be ready when…if our alert status changes. I’ll keep you informed of any updates,” said Major Lance. “Dismissed.”
Dr. Metcalfe started out of the office. Right behind him, Dr. Doyle asked, “I heard General Short’s handicap is eight. Is that true?”
Annie waited until they were gone before speaking as if it pained her to say the words. “I have to agree with Dr. Doyle. Japan wouldn’t attack us here. It would be suicide.”
“You’re probably right,” Major Lance said unconvincingly.
“If we’re attacked, we only have fifteen beds with mattresses. Is there any way to speed up the request process?”
“I’ll see what I can do,” he said. “Tell me how it’s going at the community center.”
“Are you wondering if I’ve heard anyone plotting to invade Pearl Harbor?” she asked with a half smile. “Besides, I’m sure we have experienced spies on the ground. I don’t have any training in collecting intelligence.”
“You don’t have to be Mata Hari. Just pay attention to what people do and say, and report back to me if there’s anything you think I should know. If everyone at the community center is on the up-and-up, then nothing lost, nothing gained.”
“Okay,” she said. “I’ll keep you posted.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant.”
“Yes, sir,” said Annie, like she’d said it a thousand times before to countless superior officers over her career. But never with such a sick feeling in her stomach.
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Re: Pearl Harbour seen through the eyes of an accomplished wartime nurse
(Prestige Serenity Shores 3:52am November 27)
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